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Research centres and the art of teamwork

We have a very large research side at KTH that is run in the form of Research Centres. This is a structured form of cooperation between academia, industry and society that focuses on a specific problem area. Long term and often relatively substantial financing enables knowledge to be developed and critical mass achieved within areas where know-how from many different directions is required.

In 2005, VR and Formas were commissioned by the government to support the development of Centres of Excellence, also known as Linnaeus Centres for Excellence, at Swedish universities in accordance with research bill 2004/o5:80 “Research for a better future”. This resulted in financing for 40 centres, that received from SEK five to ten million per year. Having been in operation for ten years, these centres have now been evaluated by an international panel to provide feedback to the government on whether the investment has had the desired effect.

The report that was presented a couple of weeks ago, said that the investment has not only been very successful but also boosted the internationalisation and international visibility of the Swedish universities. Two Linnaeus Centres for Excellence at KTH; ACCESS and FLOW, excelled in the Research Performance panel report.  ACCESS also stands out in the category of the Social Impact of Research.

The lessons learned from the Linnaeus Centres for Excellence at KTH include, for example, that ADOPT proved very successful within its area Optics and Photonics, and was able to recruit new research talents.  One specific outcome of the profile of the Centre was that it led to KTH’s participation in the EU FET Flagship Quantum Technologies Program.

The FLOW centre brought together expertise within flow dynamics at KTH with researchers from mechanics, aeronautical engineering and applied mathematics, and these activities are continuing today as part of the Department of Engineering Mechanics at KTH.

The third centre, ACCESS, has developed along a different line, having been able to continue within the umbrella of the strategic research area oriented to Digitalisation, after the centre was closed. The centre has been hailed as a shining example of how, having started by seeking professional help in creating a strong profile, it took the path of using the funding offered for visiting professors and positions for post-doctoral researchers. This gave the centre critical mass and a reputation that, in turn, helped to successfully attract additional external financing and further develop its research.

In their different ways, these centres have had a big impact on KTH over the most recent ten-year period, a large number of other research centres have been established based on different strategic directions. To provide them with the best possible support, we have developed and arranged bespoke courses and workshops for centre representatives on leadership, Intellectual Property Rights, communication, partnerships with industry etc. The Research Support Office works closely with all KTH centres to ensure they are well-positioned with the structure to develop good research environments and strategic steering groups.

As Vice President for Research, I work on a day to day basis with both existing research centres and proposals for new ones. I never cease to be impressed by what can be achieved by working together. It therefore feels extremely meaningful to focus on how we can increase the quality of the way we manage this type of research cooperation and how we can make it more efficient.